Welcome back, folks. I hope you are all well-rested and have taken your recommended dose of Men in Black Memory Neuralyzer since last week. If not, do not worry. Minnesota Vikings' fans are hurting just as much as Detroit Lions' fans after an embarrassing Week 1. And the Vikings' wounds are a day fresher, having displayed their incompetence to a national, late-night audience on Monday night. But let us put the woes of opening week behind us and move on to the charts.
Note: Again, we are using mostly 2014 data. The charts include stats from Week 1, but 2014 data points will continue until Week 4.
Lions pass offense (12th in 2014 in yardage) vs. Vikings pass defense (7th)
The Lions had an inconsistent pass offense in 2014, and that looks like it may continue in 2015. Matthew Stafford looked brilliant at times in the first half of the game against the Chargers, but was stuck in neutral for most of the second half. In 2014, the Lions averaged 251.9 yards per game with a passer rating of 85.9. Week 1 Detroit Lions nearly matched those totals exactly, indicating that Lions fans may have been a little quick to jump the gun that Detroit's offense should be much improved this year.
The biggest hurdle for the offense in San Diego was pass protection. On both crucial interceptions thrown by Stafford in Week 1, he was under duress. Luckily for the Lions, it appears they will be getting back at least one starting linemen, with right tackle LaAdrian Waddle no longer listed on the injury report. There's a chance Detroit could get interior help, too, as Larry Warford returned to practice this week, albeit in a limited capacity. Still, Detroit had issues along the entire offensive line, and it is a bit too hopeful to think that all of their problems will be ironed out in a week's time.
The Vikings pass defense was all over the place in 2014, creating a beautiful, but utterly confusing chart. They consistently held opposing offenses below their passing yard averages, but when it comes to passer rating, things were a little more complicated. They only held four of 16 opponents below their passer rating average, but they also held five of 16 right around their averages.
Again, we didn't see much deviation from the norm in Week 1 for the Vikings. They held the 49ers to just 165 net passing yards, but with Colin Kaepernick's passer rating of 83.0 (he averaged 86.4), Minnesota didn't really do a great job reeling him in.
Overall, Minnesota's pass defense is a lot like it was last year: very unlikely to get scorched, but teams can have a modest, efficient game against them. This is exactly how the Lions played against them last year. While they only totaled 308 yards combined in both games, the Lions averaged a decent passer rating of 85.45 against Minnesota.
Player to watch: Everson Griffen. When you put out such strong words as Griffen did on Wednesday, suddenly your performance is put under a microscope. Griffen has a chance to backup his words with a good performance, since the Lions offensive line is going through some issues. However, be sure to expect some Lions to be gunning for him.
Advantage: Vikings +0.5. You could argue that the Vikings "won" this matchup in both games from 2014. The Lions were held well below their yardage average in both games, but their passer rating remained about average. I don't see any evidence from either team to believe things will be much different this year. Expect Stafford to have somewhere around 200 net yards, and a passer rating right around 85.0. Not a terrible game, but exactly the bounce-back performance that Detroit fans are hoping for.
Lions run offense (28th) vs. Vikings run defense (25th)
Well, Week 1 of the Ameer Abdullah experiment seemed to go pretty well. Although the Lions ran just 16 times against the Chargers, their 4.3 yards per carry was much better than their 2014 average of 3.6; Abdullah undoubtedly gave them a spark last week that was often times amiss in 2014. Of course, this is still an extremely small sample size, so we cannot in good faith consider the Lions' run game miraculously healed from the terror of their 2014 effort.
When it comes to Minnesota's run defense, their aptitude seemed to be quite overstated last season. For a defense that was supposed to be filled with up-and-coming talent, they did a pretty poor job of stopping the run in 2014. And those problems do not look like they have been addressed if Week 1 is any indicator. Monday night, the Vikings were ran all over by a second-year player, a rugby star and a fading star. The 49ers will have a great rushing attack this year, but 230 yards at 5.9 a carry is completely unacceptable no matter what team your run defense is going up against.
Player to watch: Abdullah. The man can find a hole, and if Monday was any indication, there will be holes.
Advantage: Lions +1. With a healthier offensive line and a struggling run defense, this feels like a great opportunity for Detroit to bust out of their season-long rushing slump. I only awarded Detroit a +1 advantage because the sample size of their modest success is still extremely low. Don't expect 200+ yards, but I see Detroit breaking the 100 yard mark for just the sixth time in 18 games.
Vikings pass offense (28th) vs. Lions pass defense (13th)
With the way Teddy Bridgewater finished the 2014 season, expectations were extremely high going into 2015. It appears most of those expectations were a bit unrealistic. The Vikings pass offense had to be one of the bigger disappointments in Minnesota's 2015 debut, totaling just 177 yards and a passer rating of 79.0.
That being said, don't be completely fooled by those numbers, Bridgewater will be okay. Where he'll need help, though, is from the offensive line. Like Detroit, Minnesota has been struggling with injuries along the line, specifically at center, where the Vikings lost their best linemen to back surgery. The result was five sacks, and that total doesn't reflect the several that Bridgewater managed to avoid with his feet.
Detroit's pass defense in 2014 wasn't stellar, but it was solid. The same cannot be said for their debut performance this season. Philip Rivers and the Chargers absolutely lit up the defense to the tune of 388 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.8. That's an extremely impressive passer rating considering that Rivers also threw two interceptions in the game. For the Lions, that's scary bad.
I honestly don't know what to do with the Lions data point from Week 1. It is obviously a drastic departure from the defense of last year, but I can't tell if this was just an unfortunate performance, if San Diego's offense is really that good, or if this is a sign of things to come. Regardless, the pass defense looks bad, and with Darius Slay looking unlikely to play this week, there's not a whole lot to be optimistic about this week.
Player to watch: Mike Wallace. Wallace was brought in to Minnesota to bolster their underwhelming receiving corps. Though Wallace's main skills is his deep speed, the Vikings may choose to use him in more of a short, quick route receiver in this game, given how badly Keenan Allen tore up the Lions defense in that manner.
Advantage: Vikings +0.5. While I am quick to dismiss how poorly the Lions performed in San Diego, I am also somewhat quick to dismiss the notion that Bridgewater is going to have a sophomore slump. I think Detroit is going to struggle a bit with some of the Vikings' quicker, shiftier receivers, especially if Slay is on the sidelines. However, if Minnesota doesn't get rid of the ball quickly, they will likely be under heavy duress from the Lions' still-impressive defensive front.
Vikings run offense (14th) vs. Lions run defense (1st)
The Vikings had a pretty pedestrian rushing attack last season without Adrian Peterson. Though they averaged a respectable 4.4 yards a carry (t-10th), they only averaged 112.8 yards per game, which was significantly down from their 2013 average of 130.1 yards per game.
With Peterson back in the mix, 2015 is off to an underwhelming start. The Vikings couldn't get much going, totaling just 71 yards on 17 carries and with Peterson averaging just 3.1 rushing yards per carry. Minnesota was actually more successful with Jerick McKinnon in the backfield, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry, but on just three rushing attempts. However, Peterson is, and will continue to be, the Vikings' feature back.
While it certainly didn't feel like it, Detroit's run defense pretty much started where it left off last season. Though they allowed 95 yards, the Chargers had to run the ball 30 times to get to that total. Detroit already ranks seventh in yards per carry allowed (3.2).
Detroit wasn't quite as dominant against the Chargers as they were in 2014, but there is still plenty of room for optimism with this group. No Chargers running back eclipsed 4 yards per carry, and the Lions did not allow a rush of 20 yards or more. This is still a good unit.
Player to watch: Haloti Ngata. Though Ngata's Lions debut was underwhelming, he'll have a big opportunity to stuff the run with the Vikings struggling up the middle of their line.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. I think this will be the matchup that decides the game. Minnesota didn't really get an opportunity to get their running game going against the 49ers, but their 4.2 yards per carry suggest that they are still capable of running the ball successfully. That being said, one of the few bright spots in the Lions' regular season debut was their ability to hold the Chargers' running game in check. I think the matchup could go either way, but based on recent history, the edge slightly favors the Lions.
Motivation. Both teams are filled to the brim with motivation and desire. Whichever team drops to 0-2 (presuming no tie), is going to quickly find themselves in a deep, dark hole that they may never be able to dig themselves out of. For two teams that certainly had playoffs on the mind going into the season, the stakes are pretty high for this game. Add in a pseudo-guarantee, and we're in for an intense, division battle.
Kicking. Don't be afraid, Lions fans. I'm talking about Minnesota's kicker, Blair Walsh. Walsh went a putrid 5-for-11 in field goals during the preseason and followed that up by missing a 44-yarder on Monday night. For a game I am expecting to be low-scoring, a missed field goal could very well end up deciding the game. But Lions fans wouldn't know anything about that (for the love of god, don't click that link).
Last week's prediction:
In continuing with the theme of Week 1 disappointments, On Paper, too, lost its season opener. I baselessly predicted a Lions 24-20 victory and paid for it. Of course, the strength of this column really comes from data, and at this point in the year, I have none of it. Still, if I had gone with my gut, this column would be 1-0.
Anyway, in the comment section, the aptly named "Things of that Nature" was our winner, after predicting a scarily close 33-27 Chargers win, just a point off from the actual 33-28 final score.
Your prize, since autumn is slowly creeping on us, is this wonderful arm sleeve!
This arm sleeve is extremely versatile. Use it during the cold months of winter on a chilly day to keep those forearms toasty. Or use it on a scorching hot afternoon on the West Coast. You don't want your arms displaying those ugly goose-bumps in the middle of 105 degree weather, do you? Enjoy your prize.
This week's prediction:
In the end, the Lions emerge with a mere +0.5 advantage. As if these columns weren't indecisive enough with so little data, Detroit's first two matchups this season are so seemingly even. I don't think either team is as bad as they appeared in Week 1, but it seems like most also overrated these teams going into 2015.
I expect a defensive battle, since both teams seem to be struggling to find an offensive identity. But since both teams struggled last week on the defensive side of the ball, this game is just a big bag of unknowns. Dart, meet dartboard.
Lions 20, Vikings 17.